Welcome to The Echo’s annual feature, Summer Soap, a daily fictional serial told over 12 episodes. The latest Soap, called Bleach, was written by Beau Williams (right), from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. You can catch up with previous episodes at echolive.ie. In this sixth episode, Matthew and Jordan enjoy another flirty meeting, but when he races back to see Orla, he is in for a huge shock.
WHENEVER the thought came into Matthew’s head, he wished it away. She had to know Orla was in there, right? There’s no way she couldn’t.
What mattered was that she didn’t know that he knew or that he had been in that room.
He couldn’t get Orla out of his mind. She sat so calm, the way her silk nightshirt wore on the small rounds of her shoulders, the way her jaw hung like a cracked branch on a young oak, she was untouchable.
The Hall of Fame Pub had a dark red tint to it, the same as when a person closes their palm around the head of a torch. It pulsed the way an artery would, and when he opened the door, Matthew was hit with heavy guitar sounds and a wall of warm air that smelled like stale beer and pizza.
“Matthew, you sexy beast! You here to finally propose?”
Jordan addressed him over the heads of the handful of men at the bar; each had a bottle in front of them and they turned to look at Matthew. The men looked as if he had swiped something that they had tried all night to get. It was nine o’clock.
“I hear this place is giving out free drinks to good-looking Americans.” Matthew pulled out an empty stool at the corner and sat in it.
Jordan gripped a rocks glass by the bottom and began to fill it with bottom shelf whiskey. “What kind of business do you think we’re trying to run here, sir?”
Matthew liked how she free-poured. It nearly pissed from the spout; she always raised the bottle up past her shoulder. She was confident, precise.
When she finished, she winked at him and put the bottle back on the rail. She set the drink in front of him and looked down the bar.
“Boys, this is Matthew, the handsomest bachelor in Cork, Matthew, Boys.” The boys tilted their heads up, pointed their bottles to him and grunted. He did the same to them with his glass and they all went back to their grumbling private conversations.
“Didn’t think I’d be waking up alone this morning. What was that all about?” She got to the point quick.
Matthew’s eyes dropped to his drink. His eyes always betrayed him when confrontation came.
“Nah, I just couldn’t sleep well when that big bed was waiting for me in the other room.”
Matthew tilted the glass on its edge and watched the drink flirt with the lip. “Plus, you take up, like, the whole bed.”
He looked up at her. He hoped the tease would be enough. “I did have a blast last night, though. Thank-you for that.”
Jordan poured herself a shot, clinked it to his while it was still on the counter and took it down fast. She was a sniper.
“Thank-you for being a gentleman.”
Her face was still. The drink hadn’t touched her. She stared into him as if she waited for an answer to a question she hadn’t asked. This was a knowing look and it made him feel trapped. He was unaware he had been staring back.
He broke gaze and looked to his drink again. Not knowing what to do, Matthew drank it and grimaced. He tapped the rim with his finger to signal fill up.
“Ice this time?”
“Welcome to the party.”
“Perks of befriending the bar staff.”
“Is that all I am to you? A wildly attractive bar wench?”
Matthew pulled a larger sip and his nervousness started to settle. “You’re laying it on thick tonight.”
She leaned over the bar, the neck of her shirt hung low, the wall-sized mirror behind her cropped the round of her tight black jeans. He shifted in his seat.
“I’m just having a little fun,” she said. “This is what we do: I flirt and make you feel sexually confused and you deny me, and we continue our fun… harmless… friendship.” With the last few words, she walked her fingers across the bar and pressed one into his chest at the end.
“Jordan! Another Tuborg, when you’re ready, love!”, one of the men called from the far end of the bar.
She craned her neck.
“Why don’t you get off your lazy ass, Paddy” she joked. She got him a beer. The spell was broken and the night went on.
A few drinks had loosened him. The gnashing dog of worry slept a restless one inside him. Once again, the time would pass with ease.
Matthew enjoyed the attention Jordan gave him, but more importantly, he enjoyed that she didn’t seem to know he had visited Orla. Things seemed normal and he was back in the clear. Now, he needed to go see her. It was midnight.
“I’ll see you in the morning. Thanks, again for the drinks.” Matthew put on his jacket.
“See you soon, love.” She came around the bar, kissed him on the cheek. Then she stared at him soberly. “You be good, okay?”
Matthew paused, then shook it off and went into the night.
When he got to the apartment, his hands trembled, and he fumbled the keys. His mind was racing. He needed to see her, to adjust her blanket, to tell her about his day and to kiss her brow goodnight.
Matthew liked to imagine she missed him. That she had waited all day for him to come home. That if she was alive, she would tell him about the handsome birds she watched play outside of her window or about how kind she thought he was or how she’d never met anyone quite like him before.
He peeled off his shoes and ran up the stairs to her door, then his heart fell into his stomach. “No. No! NO NO NO NO NO!”
He dropped to the floor.
Above the handle was a brand new brass deadbolt.